K9s for Warriors is a local organization that is proving why dogs truly are man’s best friend. The nonprofit utilizes service dogs as a treatment for warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury as a result of military service post 9/11. Chris Langston, a former marine, who now lives in Starke, Florida with his battle buddy, Kup, swears by the organization’s healing methods.

Chris was stationed in Iraq beginning in 2004. Overseas, he helped clear Fallujah, Iraq, the most dangerous city in the world at the time, and did vehicle security for convoys bringing gasoline into the country. Just a month before his deployment in Iraq was over, Chris injured his back and had to be flown to Germany for multiple surgeries. Determined to get back to work, Chris began training for a trip to Japan shortly after, only to seriously injure himself again.

Eventually, Chris would be moved to a Navy medical center in San Diego before earning an honorable discharge from service. “I was pretty depressed for awhile because I felt like I was leaving my brothers behind. They were overseas fighting and I was stuck at home,” Chris explains. This depression would spiral into a pain medicine addiction and a solitary lifestyle for Chris during his first few years out of service. “But one day, I decided I was sick of being sick. So, I started going to the gym and taking better care of myself, which helped me get off the pain meds.”

I was pretty depressed for awhile because I felt like I was leaving my brothers behind. They were overseas fighting and I was stuck at home.

Despite a new road to recovery, Chris still suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. So, when his cousin told him he’d heard an ad on the radio about an organization working with service dogs to help with PTSD, Chris decided to do some research on K9s for Warriors — and then he decided to apply.

K9s for Warriors is an intensive three-week training program where soldiers stay onsite to train with their new dog. Space is limited, so it is normal for veterans to have to wait a year or more to be approved. Chris waited eight months for his call.

Warriors don’t get to choose which dog they are paired with, so Chris had no idea what to expect when they brought him in to meet his new battle buddy. He recognized Kup as the golden retriever puppy from the K9 for Warriors Facebook that was donated and flown in from Montana, and Kup was the first pick of his litter. Immediately, they sparked a bond. “For the first three weeks, we didn’t detach unless I had to take a shower. We used a hands-free leash at all times. He slept in bed with me every night. We bonded really quickly, and to this day he still follows me everywhere I go.”

By the time the soldiers meet their K9s, the dogs are already trained. The program focuses on teaching the new owners how to use their dogs to their advantage.  They train at local supermarkets and malls for hours five days a week for three weeks to help get the soldier acclimated to public life with their dog.

To prevent side effects of Chris’ PTSD from kicking in, Kup blocks strangers from invading Chris’ personal space. “He knows when I’m getting stressed out before I do, and he’ll bite the leash to let me know,” Chris said. “My favorite thing that he does is when he wakes me up from my bad dreams. I still have nightmares sometimes and will thrash in bed, and he’ll put his paws on my chest and lick my face until I wake up.”

There are few places Chris goes that Kup doesn’t follow. “I used to not like leaving the house because I didn’t want to be around people,” Chris remembers. “But now, I always feel like I have someone watching my back. I don’t alienate myself anymore.